Innocent victims of a horrible crime

20 March 1999
Yorkshire Post

The murder of Lesley Molseed and the jailing of Stefan Kiszko for a crime he did not commit piled tragedy upon tragedy, while a convicted paedophile suspected of being the real killer went free. Chief Reporter Andrew Vine looks back at a notorious miscarriage of justice.

Life had made victims of Lesley Molseed and Stefan Kiszko before their fates became tragically intertwined in the autumn of 1975. She was a frail girl of 11, born with a heart defect which stunted her growth and left her in poor health. He was a shambling, overweight, slow-witted man whose appearance had made him a target for bullies since childhood. That two people whose families were especially devoted because they both needed special care should have become innocent victims of the most horrible of crimes makes the unsolved murder of Lesley and the wrongful jailing of Stefan the most poignant of all the miscarriages that have stained the name of the British criminal justice system.

The cruelty and injustice of what happened has remained undimmed by the almost 24 years that have passed since Lesley's body was found among the bracken and heather 20 yards from the A672 Halifax to Oldham road above Ripponden, near Halifax. She had been stabbed repeatedly and there were semen stains on her clothing.

Lesley had been missing from her Rochdale home, 10 miles from where she was found, for three days. She had gone missing whilst on an errand for her mother, who sent her out to buy a loaf of bread. Her murder shocked the nation, and West Yorkshire Police launched a huge operation to find the killer.

It took 10 weeks for the police to make what they believed was a breakthrough. There was a complaint that Stefan Kiszko, a tax office clerk, had indecently exposed himself to schoolgirls in Rochdale on the day before Lesley disappeared.

His mother, Charlotte, desperately tried to protect Stefan by claiming he could not have been responsible because he had been in hospital. The lie was easily discovered, and led detectives to look even more closely at Kiszko. They found pornographic magazines, children's balloons and sweets in his car. A search of his home revealed a collection of razor-sharp knives, which had belonged to his father.

And then the police found a witness who claimed to have seen Kiszko's Hillman Avenger near the spot where Lesley's body was found on the day she disappeared. Kiszko was arrested on December 21. In custody, he was under enormous pressure, and did not have the strength of character to maintain his innocence. Two days later, he confessed to murdering Lesley. Although he subsequently retracted that confession, he was convicted at Leeds Crown Court on July 7, 1976, and jailed for life.

He was to serve 16 terrible years, during which he was victimised and abused by other prisoners, developed paranoid schizophrenia and eventually had to be confined to a prison hospital. Throughout, he maintained his innocence, and his widowed mother began campaigning tirelessly for his release, maintaining that her Stefan was incapable of hurting anyone.

The only person who listened was Todmorden solicitor Campbell Malone, who began a painstaking re-examination of the case. In 1990, he petitioned the then Home Secretary, David Waddington, to reopen the case. Mr Waddington agreed, and West Yorkshire Police appointed Det Supt Trevor Wilkinson to investigate. He soon made the discovery that exposed the miscarriage of justice that had taken place - Kiszko was severely sexually under-developed and was incapable of producing the semen found on Lesley's clothes.

On February 18, 1992, the Court of Appeal granted Kiszko's appeal against conviction. His freedom was short-lived. In yet another tragic twist, Stefan Kiszko died of heart failure on December 21, 1993. He was 41, and it was 18 years to the day since his arrest. His death broke his mother's heart after she had fought for so long. Six months later, she too was dead.

Throughout the whole case, another figure had hovered in the background. Raymond Hewlett was a convicted child abuser who was living in Rochdale when Lesley disappeared. The day after she went missing, he went to Ireland. A month later, he returned to Rochdale, and was questioned by murder squad detectives as part of a trawl through known child molesters. He claimed he had been in a Todmorden park with a 15-year-old girl when Lesley was killed. That girl was traced 20 years later to Australia by police - and she told them Hewlett had been lying.

Three years after Lesley was murdered, Hewlett was jailed for four years for forcing a 14-year-old girl to undress at gunpoint in her Todmorden home. He served 16 months of the sentence before he fled to Ireland in 1989 after kidnapping a 14-year-old girl and sexually assaulting her at knifepoint. He was captured and sentenced to six years.

In November 1992, police arrested Hewlett and questioned him over Lesley's murder. He was released without charge and the Crown Prosecution Service said it did not have enough evidence to prosecute him. Hewlett denied any responsibility for Lesley's murder when questioned.

Now, if Lesley's family have their way, a court will decide if he is telling the truth.

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